Next wave of innovation in content aggregation? Part 2

In my first blog post, I partially explored existing content aggregation products out there. Most of the products I'm currently using offer content in an ephemeral manner which is ranked based on instantaneous popularity for consumption. In an age in which we are bombarded with information, what happens to high quality, long living content that could facilitate learning? Our age which depreciates technical skills faster than ever, in which young workforce has to keep on learning to keep up, how should we aggregate and present content that facilitates learning to maximize continuous learning?

This is a git tree visualization. Git is a source code management system used in software projects that involves many developers working on various parts of the same project simultaneously. It allows contributors to work in a distributed, non-linear conduct. I have been using git for the last two years; I'm no git master, in fact most of the time I mess up repos by using 'git push --force', drive everyone else in the team nuts. First time I used git I felt the power of open-source software and distributed systems; horde of developers around the world, living in different time zones contributed to software projects in an elegant, coordinated manner; almost like synchronized swimming. Work as we know it is morphing into a distributed system; complex tasks are broken into smaller tasks which are distributed with the system in a self regulating, self balancing fashion, rather than the classical a top-down approach in which management is dictating tasks to certain individuals. Nowadays we see this pattern in various jobs; software is an obvious example, maker movement, liberalization of production and design with 3D printers is another example. I believe distributed systems are going to dominate our lives in the near future as the world gets flat. 

My question is this: How can we educate our people continuously in which work is fragmented into smaller pieces, allocation of work is getting decentralized? I believe that learning and education, just like production of goods and services will decentralize and liberalize in the near future. Change started with e-learning movement (leading startups mentioned in part 1), most of these startups built their foundation on existing institutions and their tools. These tools are supposed to be universal, but of course not. Current business model of e-learning startups will face glocalization (actually Khan Academy started localizing it's content), their products and offerings will morph with culture, or their business models will be reverse engineered and pushed back into the market. I am not sure if these startups could surmount this challenge, as their foundation is the old institutions which obviously can't cope with the market demand for learning. I believe that we must design an open, distributed structure for education.

Let's get back to content aggregation and git. I will try to imagine a new type of content aggregator that will focus on learning rather than fast content consumption. This system will be curated by crowds (open for discussion, could be expanded), should offer variety without confusing the end-user. End-product will be a lineage of content (ideally any type of content) on any subject. A lineage will start from a root, continue on a parent branch which may have sibling branches. A sibling may act as a parent to many other siblings or could be a leaf - end of a sibling. Here is a visual representation for those of you who are visual thinkers:

As you can see this is actually data structure tree. You can call what we are trying to build here a tree or a pattern of content (but let's continue calling it lineage for convenience) . As mentioned before, lineages will not be static, but dynamic entities that could be cloned, manipulated, re-released, branched out, combined in any possible way by crowds. In a way, our lineages resemble a git repository. Let's try thinking of this on a dummy example (sadly I'm drawing these, plan on building something dynamic and interactive using d3.js next time):

Here we have three different lineages with different complexities. First lineage is the simplest one, bearing a single parent that goes in a linear path. Second lineage offers a 'supplement reading' section, dotted lines indicates that these books are not prerequisite for anything, they are optional. Third lineage is a quite complex, here we start from node A, which breaks into node B and node Z - two separate subjects. These subjects later on, where content X has two prerequisites from two separate subjects (Y and C nodes). I think this model gives us a good starting point. In my next blog post I will try to deconstruct an existing curriculum reading list using this methodology, and create try to create an independent curriculum for a subject that I'm familiar with - finance.

Next wave of innovation in content aggregation? Part 1

I'm having hard time finding reasonable, thoughtful, musing or moving content online. When I say 'online' I mean my phone. I realized that I have been doing most of the reading on my phone now. Apps that I use to consume content on my phone are the following:

Flipboard: I actually hate it. I think the aggregation system is outdated (curating some articles from various well-known websites, this is not what I expect from a news aggregator), the only thing that I like about this app is the flip action. I think it's addictive. Resembles scanning through newspaper pages, feels natural. 

Facebook: I'm constantly checking my Facebook newsfeed. I cleared it out of unnecessary 'friends' and 'likes' a year ago, it's working out great for me. Most of the content is relevant, but (sadly) ephemeral and/or popular. Currently Facebook offers me a broad, casual content, but nothing more. 

Paper: This is another Facebook app that I use for content consumption. I think it's a beautiful app, offers a unique experience; resembles Flipboard in that sense. Two flaws with this app (1) it's replicating some central features of Facebook app, such as notifications. I believe the main motivation here was to use these notifications to re-engage users into the app, (notifications are pushed to my lock screen after using the app, which gives us a hint regarding the built-in 're-engagement' scheme) .However it's an app designed for reading (named 'Paper'), not an app for social interactions (that's Facebook app). This creates ambiguity in the eyes of the user, which is not good. It's quite slow for social interactions anyways, takes 3-5 seconds for the app to load a comment. (2) Paper offers mainstream, ephemeral content, just like Facebook app it remains broad and casual. So why have an app like this, if it's not offering anything new other than design?

Twitter: I'm not a frequent user of Twitter mobile app. The mobile experience is really transient, looks like a stock ticker IMHO. I believe this is done in purpose; mainstream consumers demand fast consumption of content, fastest way of consuming content is Twitter right now. It also makes sense if your main aim is to generate impressions and inventory for ad sales. I'm not interested with that kind of content, in this case my indifference is acceptable.

I use Twitter on desktop to discover people, especially SMEs in certain subjects. I believe that open structure of the platform makes it the perfect testing environment for reputation graph. Twitter is a great tool if you know how to use it - it offers a chance for in depth analysis; let's you find rich and deep content, actually shows you a timeline of content evolution (I will talk about this matter in depth later on).

Quora: Quora is ... a great product with lots of flaws. I love the content in Quora, but hate the way they 'represent' that content to their users. I don't like their website UI (had my share of criticism, here is a long Q&A on the issue), their mobile experience is even a bigger mess. I believe that due to the quality of content and effective caste system that is imposed on users, people continue using Quora. Main reason that I criticize them is their sluggish approach to design innovation. They've raised loads of money, they should focus on giving the user a better experience with the content. 

Among all the apps mentioned here, Quora and Twitter differentiate themselves by offering resilient, (somewhat) timeless content. Users have a motivation to revisit the content, like reading a phrase from a book they like, or to fine-tune their knowledge on a certain subject. Second part is the part that interests me. My hypothesis is as follows: while learning something, people follow certain patterns through content. Certain patterns are deep rooted in learning, creating the backbone of any specialization; actually these patterns are easy to decipher - they are engraved in our education system. There is a certain pattern that you can see in the college curriculum which enforces certain kind of hierarchy on the way we consume content for a certain period of time - you could not / shall not read Calculus II content before Calculus I, learning follows this certain path. If you do, you will miss certain key points, not able to connect the right dots - at least most of us won't be able to.

Does content ordered in a hierarchical order really facilitate learning? Do we have any live examples? I believe the recent wave of e-learning startups are following this trend: Khan Academy has a catalogue of content aligned around education levels, Coursera copies the course system of universities, Udacity follows a similar pattern offering a catalog of courses, asks you to follow a path and earn skill badges (which resembles Diablo 3 skill tree). I learned coding HTML, CSS through W3 website, which asks you to follow certain steps, got into advanced topics Other tools that I used in the past such as Codeacademy, Treehouse have innovated 'learning patterns' for coding. 

What is missing here? What kind of content is not aggregated in an orderly fashion for learning?